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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

NEWS: Movie Producers Agree to Changes

Protest over portrayal of leprosy in animated feature has positive outcome.

The producers of a forthcoming animated feature have agreed to make changes after a trailer for the film in which leprosy was depicted in a misleading light became the subject of an international protest.

Aardman Animations of the United Kingdom issued a statement in which they said they would change the scene in The Pirates! Band of Misfits "out of respect and sensitivity for those who suffer from leprosy."

Jose Ramirez, Jr., editor of The Star newspaper, was the first to alert colleagues around the world after seeing a trailer for the film at a cinema in Texas. In the scene in question, a pirate captain boards a vessel demanding gold, only to be told, "Afraid we don't have any gold, old man. This is a leper-boat. See…," the character says, and then his arm drops off.

Ramirez's initial email triggered a flurry of activity, with U.K.-based charity Lepra Health in Action and its chief executive Sarah Nancollas taking a leading role. Also weighing in were Douglas Soutar, general secretary of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and member organizations.

From Tokyo, Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa dispatched letters to the producers, who included Sony Pictures Animation, the distributor Columbia Pictures and other companies involved. In his correspondence he decried the use of the term "leper" and rapped the producers for perpetuating misconceptions about the disease and "worse, for playing the disease for laughs."

"It is not an easy task to change the image of leprosy, and it is a task made all the harder through regrettable depictions of the disease - especially when they feature in a family film that will be seen by a worldwide audience," the Goodwill Ambassador wrote. In a letter of reply, Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chairman Jeff Blake assured him that the scene would not be in the film when released and that the trailer had been withdrawn.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits! goes on release in April in many parts of the world.

Dr. P.K. GOPAL HONORED

Dr. P.K. Gopal is to be awarded one of India's top civilian honors, the Padma Shri, for his decades of leprosy work. Diagnosed with leprosy at the age of 19, Dr. Gopal has dedicated his life to championing the cause of people affected by leprosy.

He is one of the founding members of Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA), the NGO established in 1994 that he serves as international president. More recently he has also been active as chairman of the National Forum, India's network organization of people affected by leprosy established in 2006.

Padma Shri recognizes distinguished contributions of Indian citizens in different fields, including social work. Dr. Gopal will receive his award at a ceremony later in the year.